10 Things “Mad Men” Has Taught Us About Team Building

As AMC closes the door on the “Mad Men,” modern America’s chronicle of business, culture, and societal change in 1960s, viewers and critics will be analyzing what it all means for some time to come. When it comes to team building, here are 10 takeaways from the weekly travails of the advertising agency of Sterling, Cooper & Partners.

1. Operate within the assigned role established by your team.

In the first episode of Season 1, account executive Pete Campbell expresses a wish to work in the creative department, thinking he is every bit as talented as the creative director, the enigmatic Don Draper. To prove his point, Pete salvages some discarded research about cigarettes from Don’s wastebasket and presents it in a client meeting as documentation for his own ideas. Pete loses face and nearly his job.

Later Don tries to play account executive, lands the Conrad Hilton account, and runs into trouble when he can’t reconcile the hand-holding aspects of account management with the tricky dynamics of a creative pitch.

2. Recognize emerging talent but don’t forget to give your protege credit for her ideas.

Don gives his talented secretary Peggy Olson a boost by promoting her to copy writer. Later he wins a prestigious award for her idea and, when she asks for credit, yells,“That’s what the money’s for.” He exacerbates the insult still later by throwing money in her face.

3. Take risks but don’t let your risk-taking side-blind your team.

Don Draper and creative director of a rival agency, Ted Chaough, decide to merge their companies to increase their fire power in bidding for business from Chevrolet. They win.

Their combined agencies, however, are not happy about being forced to work together without advance notice. Failing to learn this lesson, SC&P president Roger Sterling saves his company by abruptly selling it to the mammoth ad agency McCann-Erickson. Employees greet the announcement by walking out.

4. Acknowledge the importance of the team members behind the scenes of your operation.

On Peggy Olson’s first day, head secretary Joan Holloway shows her the ropes. The most important must-do? Bring gifts to the switchboard operators. No one likes dropped calls.

5. Remember, the client is always right . . . but don’t ignore your team’s boundaries.

Lucky Strike is Sterling Cooper’s anchor client. Anything Lucky Strike says goes. Right down to throwing a Christmas party the agency can’t afford. But making Roger Sterling wear the Santa Claus suit crosses a line. Especially after Lucky Strike pulls its account in the new year.

6. Know when to let go.

Don mentors his hotheaded copywriter Johnny Mathis on how to regain a client’s trust after Johnny has a meltdown during a presentation. Cautioning him not to apologize, Don suggests using some humor in a followup presentation.

Johnny complies by calling the client an unprintable name. Don knows when to cut his losses. He should know. SC&P had given Don his own walking papers when his inappropriate self-disclosure lost them the Hershey account.

7. Encourage creative professionals to embrace failure.

When a team director asks for 50 tag lines, that means 49 of them will be thrown out.

8. Sometimes it’s good to show, not tell, your team what you have in mind.

Peggy drives home her pitch about Burger Chef creating family bonding away from the distractions of television by actually taking her team members to a Burger Chef where they sit around a table and look like a family.

9. Before you stand on principle with a team member, examine your own shortcomings.

For all his professional life Don Draper has been living off the identify of a man he accidentally killed. The awareness of his lifelong fraud doesn’t stop him from firing a partner for forging Don’s signature on a check to cover a temporary cash shortfall.

10. Cultivate loyalty in team members.

When Pete Campbell tries to reveal Don’s true identity to senior partner Bert Cooper, Bert shrugs off the disclosure by saying people should be valued on their merits, not their identities. Bert advises Don against firing Pete, observing, “Who knows how loyalty is born?”

It’s good advice – shortly afterward, Pete helps Don keep his identity a secret by killing an account with defense contractor North American Aviation before the State Department can investigate Don’s application for security clearance.

When it comes to team building, these 10 lessons from Mad Men can help team members become a cohesive unit that achieves its goals with communication, innovation, and enhanced performance. Put them into practice and watch your team thrive.

If you enjoyed this post, try checking out these:

3 Hidden Ways to Make Your Dallas Company Picnic Fun

Team Building Event or Company Outing: Which is the Best Solution for Your Needs? 

The Top 3 Elements that Make a Successful Company Outing in Dallas